The Crofts have settled into Kellynch, Anne has been staying with her sister at Uppercross Cottage, and Captain Frederick Wentworth is on his way to visit his sister and her husband.
From Chapter 6: “When the Crofts called this morning… they happened to say, that her brother, Captain Wentworth, is just returned to England, or paid off, or something, and is coming to see them almost directly…”
“Whoa!” Captain Frederick Wentworth gave a slight tug on the reins, bringing his horse to a stop. He took in a deep breath and his heart began to pound as looked at the crossroads before him.
Taking the road to the left would lead to Taunton, where his brother had served as cleric. How often he took this road when he was visiting Edward. His mouth grew dry as he slowly turned to the right. The road to the right led to Kellynch Hall.
He gave the horse a slight kick and pulled the reins to the right. He did not wish to gallop to Kellynch; he would take it slowly, for the feelings that had resurfaced since discovering his sister and her husband were letting Anne’s home, or at least her former home, had assaulted him with great force.
Has it really been eight years? Wentworth felt as though it was just yesterday that he travelled this road. He knew it very well, almost by heart.
As the horse moved slowly along, Wentworth took in the landmarks that were familiar, yet not. There was the gnarly old tree with the large hole in it. He and Anne often commented about the birds or animals that might seek refuge in it. He believed the wise owl would have claimed it as its domain, while Anne thought it would be a perfect respite for a peaceful pair of nesting doves.
The road crossed a dried stream bed and he recollected how it had flowed with water when he had been here last, after several days of rain. Up ahead and around the curve would be the large tree under which he and Anne sat, shaded by the canopy of leaves.
At the turn in the road he came to abrupt halt. The tree had broken off along the trunk and fallen. Its tangled, lifeless branches were strewn across the meadow, void of any greenery. A few small twigs were sprouting from the trunk where it had split, attempting, so it seemed, to bring life back into it. He surmised it was a useless case.
Will I see her? He shook his head, wondering which he feared more: encountering her again or not seeing her. The family was apparently going to reside in Bath, so most likely he would be spared having to face her. A very familiar sense of regret flooded him, causing an ache that was as fresh as when she first broke off their engagement. In recent years those feelings had gradually diminished as he resolutely pushed them down when they chanced to surface. Until, that is, he received the letter from his sister, informing him about their letting of Kellynch.
Another bend in the road and a slight incline were all that was left before he would have his first view of the manor since leaving these parts in great anguish of soul. He nudged the horse along, knowing exactly what he would see. The place was etched in his mind, and it held such tender memories as well as heartrending ones.
He shook his head and kicked the horse soundly. Enough of this sentimentality! Miss Anne Elliot has no hold over my heart any longer!
The horse took off in a fierce gallop, as if sensing its rider’s mood, leaving a trail of kicked up dust behind them.
He approached the summit of the small hill; every muscle tensed as he knew what he would soon see. He could do nothing to suppress the feelings that had been building up since he received his sister’s letter, so he did not attempt to do so.
Kellynch was suddenly there before him, and his heart leapt painfully in his chest as he drew near. He reined in the horse to slow it down as he attempted to rein in the myriads of emotions threatening to undo him.
“It is now just a home my sister is letting,” he said aloud. “Anne is not here. It is an empty shell…” He looked down and shook his head. While he had had success as a Naval Sea Captain, he had never been able to fill the emptiness left when Anne broke his heart.
He brought the horse to a halt at the front and dismounted. The memories of his last visit flashed before him. He had come to seek Sir Elliot’s consent to marry Anne and had been disgusted with the way her family had treated her. He had wished so much to shower her with the love and respect she deserved. He had never been able to do that.
He was about to knock on the door when he halted. Would there be servants still here who once knew him as Anne’s beau? It had been eight years. He hoped he would not encounter any that remembered him.
He knocked and waited. He closed his hands into tight fists as he waited, forcing himself to take slow and deep breaths. He knew once he had been here a while – possibly an hour, or at the most a day – he would no longer be under the power of those distant memories. At least he hoped.
The door was opened, and he did not recognize the butler. He practically laughed, he was so relieved. “I am Captain Frederick Wentworth, here to see my sister, Mrs Croft, and her husband.”
“Yes, sir. Please come in. They will receive you in the drawing room, if you will follow me.”
Wentworth had no need to follow him, but he did, just the same. He saw some servants scurrying about, and while he could not remember the ones he saw, he felt as though they were whispering to each other about him. He gave his head a shake. He had to stop thinking in this manner!
He was relieved when he reached the drawing room, not because there were no memories here – there were many – but because Sophie was before him, walking towards him with outstretched arms.
“Frederick! I am so glad you have come! It is so good to see you!” She wrapped her arms about his waist and pressed her head against his chest.
Wentworth returned her embrace, squeezing her tightly. “It is good to be…” His voice cracked, and he pulled away, looking at her. “I am delighted to see you!”
Admiral Croft approached and took his hand in a firm handshake. “Welcome to Kellynch, Frederick!”
“Thank you, sir.”
Sophie placed both hands on either side of her brother’s face. “You look thinner, Frederick. And a little pale. Have you been unwell?”
“No, I am quite well.”
“Well, come sit down and have some tea. I would ask you to tell me how your last few months at sea were, but if I did, I would not get in a word as you and my husband would be compelled to compare stories.”
“We have plenty of time to do that,” laughed Wentworth, who was beginning to feel himself again.
“So what do you think of Kellynch?” the admiral asked. “Does it suit us?” He laughed and looked at his wife. “Or should I say does it suit Sophie, as that is the material point.”
“It looks much the same…” Wentworth pursed his lips.
“You have been here before?” Sophie asked. When he nodded, she looked at her husband. “I told you there was always that possibility.”
Please do not ask me about it, he thought to himself. He abruptly changed the subject. “The family has gone to Bath, I believe you said in your letter.”
Sophie nodded. “Well, not all. You know one of the daughters married the eldest Musgrove son and lives at nearby Uppercross cottage.”
Wentworth had been sipping his tea and choked at her words.
“Frederick?” She leaned towards him with an expression of concern.
He waved a hand signalling he was all right, but in truth, felt anything but. “You… you were saying?” Did he really wish to know if it was Anne? Perhaps if he found out Anne was married, it would cease all feelings for her. “Do you know… which daughter?” He hoped they did not notice the quaver in his voice.
Sophie looked at her husband. “What was her name?” She clucked her tongue. “I know it is not Elizabeth. She is the eldest.”
Admiral Croft laughed. “Oh, Miss Elizabeth Ellliot is quite the picture of a spoiled, selfish eldest daughter. She is so much like her father, and I do not mean that as a compliment.” He looked at Frederick. “She is in Bath with her father.”
Frederick felt his stomach begin to churn as he waited for news whether Anne had married, but made every attempt to appear calm.
“Oh, Frederick, you would not believe how vain this family is.”
He nodded, unable to formulate any response.
“Mary!” exclaimed Sophie. “That is her name! She is the one now married to Mr. Musgrove.”
Wentworth felt a sudden relief, as if a heavy weight was lifted, but almost immediately chided himself, for it was likely Anne had married someone else by now, even if it was not Mr. Musgrove. He hoped if she had, she would not live nearby. He would be tormented having to see her with someone else.
“Ah, and then there is Anne!” the admiral said. “Now we have it! Our memories are not completely gone!”
Wentworth’s hands gripped the arms of the chair as he waited to hear what they had to say about her.
“Oh, sweet Anne!” his sister said. “How she can belong to the same family is beyond my comprehension!”
The admiral slowly nodded his head with a smile, and Wentworth waited. He dared not pick up his cup of tea for fear he would spill it when they finally announced she was married.
“She is nearby, as well, as she is remaining here for a short time staying at Uppercross cottage. Apparently her sister requires a great deal of assistance.”
Wentworth was silent, in case they added any further information. When they did not, he began to think about what this would mean. At least he attempted to think. The thought of seeing Anne again stirred his feelings but muddied his mind.
He abruptly jumped out of his chair and began to pace.
“Frederick,” his sister said, after watching him move about the room. “I can see something is wrong. I have known you all your life, and when you begin to walk in that manner, something is pressing on your mind.” She paused and smiled.
He should have known Sophie would notice. “I… yes, I am rather fatigued. I believe I need to rest. I shall be much better company in an hour or two.”
“Certainly.” She called for a servant to show him to his room.
Once there, he was grateful for the solitude. Now that he had a better grasp of what – and who – he would face, he could mentally prepare himself. He had learnt as a naval captain to think things through logically, without allowing his feelings to interfere. He had made crucial decisions in the midst of doubts and fears, anger and fatigue, and had proven to be more than capable.
When he was young, he had discovered that he did his best thinking while moving about. At sea, he would stroll his captain’s quarters or when the seas were calm and weather pleasant, he would walk about on deck. Sitting still only intensified his feelings, and that was something he did not need at the moment.
For now, he would pace.
Want to refresh your memory with Jane’s Austen’s original work? Read Persuasion on Austen variations HERE.